Guatemala Leader Apologizes for 1954 CIA-Backed Coup

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Al Jazeera

Guatemala Leader Apologizes for 1954 CIA-Backed Coup

President "requests the forgiveness" of the family of Jacobo Arbenz, a leftist who was violently removed from power.

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Wearing masks, members of a group called "Anonymous" pose for pictures during celebrations marking the Day of the Revolution in Guatemala City,Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. The Revolution Day marks the election of leftist President Jacobo Arbenz in 1951, toppled in 1954 in a CIA-backed coup. Guatemala's government has apologized to the family of Arbenz. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The Guatemalan president, Alvaro Colom, has issued an official apology to the family of the former president Jacobo Arbenz, 57 years after a US-backed coup violently removed him from power.

Colom, who apologized under a settlement worked out with Arbenz's family by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said on Thursday the coup was a "crime [against] the Guatemalan society committed by the CIA and Guatemalans with bad intentions".

Speaking during a ceremony at the former government headquarters, in the presence of Jacobo Arbenz Vilanova, the only surviving son of the former president, Colom said: "As head of state, as constitutional president of the republic and as the military's commander in chief, I hereby wish to request the forgiveness of the Arbenz Vilanova family for this great crime.

"It was above all a crime against him, his wife, his family, but also a historic crime for Guatemala. This day changed Guatemala and we still haven't recovered."

Among the new measures announced by Colom's leftist government is the redrafting of school textbooks to add a retelling of Arbenz's legacy to the country and the renaming of a national highway in his honor.

'CIA-backed coup'

Arbenz was only the second freely elected president in Guatemala. Dubbed "the Soldier of the People”, he had promised to redistribute land to impoverished indigenous communities much to the ire of massive US agricultural investors in the country.

He was overthrown on June 27, 1954, in a coup led by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas that was engineered by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

The coup helped trigger a 36-year civil war, according to Colom.

Indeed, the coup was followed by decades of political violence, military rule and a guerrilla movement formed by disaffected military officers that set off one of Latin America's bloodiest civil wars from 1960 to 1996.

Arbenz, a former left-wing leader, was exiled on charges of being a communist. But his son dismissed the accusations, saying they were based only on land reforms that threatened the interests of the United Fruit Company.

“Here started the injustice and I [call on] the United States to recognize their errors."

Castillo, the coup leader, was shot to death on 26 July 1957, while in power.

Arbenz died in exile in Mexico in 1971. His remains were not repatriated until 1995.

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